Editorial on ELTNEWS.com
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It was good to see one of the Extensive Reading World Congress plenary speakers, William Grabe, end his presentation with a call for more research. In opposition to the previously quoted nonsense about research from Nunan (formal experimental research in ELT is "useless") and Larsen-Freeman ("insight rather than proof should be the standard of research"), Grabe recognized that if Extensive Reading (ER) is to be brought further into the mainstream then what is needed is proper experimental research providing hard evidence of ER's efficacy.

But such calls are not enough. Ben Goldacre in his brilliant book, Bad Science, notes that the phrase "There is need for more research" has been banned by the British Medical Journal for many years on the grounds that it adds nothing. Instead, academics need to get specific -- what research is missing, on whom, how, measuring what, funded by whom, to what timetable etc.

So this moment should not be lost. If the case for ER is "inescapable" then let's make it unassailable. Specific proposals for research should be detailed and funding applied for.

What funding? Well, a remark I heard at the final plenary revealed a possible benefactor. Apparently, Pearson generates more cash from graded readers in Japan than from any other ELT source. This sounds likely, and in any case, readers are big business for publishers. Should they not be donating money to organizations (perhaps like the Extensive Reading Foundation) to oversee research into the efficacy of ER?

Such research, providing hard evidence of the effectiveness of ER, would be a win for teachers, students and publishers alike.

Russell Willis
Founder, ELTNEWS

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Thanks, Russell, for raising an important issue.

One of the best things about graded readers from a publisher's perspective is that unlike coursebooks and other 'one title, one student, one year' parts of the typical ELT components package, they aren't a zero-sum game. If a school has the full range of, for example, the Page Turners series in their library, it doesn't mean that they can't or shouldn't get the whole Footprints Reading Library too. That's the Extensive Reading idea - a lot of books, often, for pleasure.

It's unlikely, and in fact not particularly advisable, that schools will source graded readers from any one single publisher. In any school's graded reader library, and in any student's reading list, you're going to find titles from anything up to seven or eight different publishers. This is a good thing. But it creates problems for the idea of publishers funding research into the efficacy of Extensive Reading Programs, since its unlikely that a single publisher is going to be able to fund research into series' that it didn't publish and has no access to or knowledge of the pedagogical basis behind them. And research into the efficacy of any single graded reader series is going to be problematic too, as single-series based Extensive Reading programs in which to conduct this research are rare, and in any case outliers.

This puts the booksellers - organizations such as eltbooks.com - in a unique position. They are the part of the Extensive Reading value chain that aggregates all graded readers from all publishers and sells them.

My point is this: since Booksellers are in this unique position of deriving benefit from all graded reader series, and since the catalogue of books they carry is far more representative of what a school's graded reader stock actually looks like, should they be overlooked as a potential source of funding for this research?

Thanks for this Steve.

I think the parameters of any study would be decided by the organization carrying it out, but personally I don't see any problem with using a single publisher's series of readers as the materials being used in such as study -- as long as those readers were considered a representative example of the commercially graded readers that are available. I'm pretty sure if a study based on Oxford Bookworms revealed a big win for ER, that most people would feel it reasonable to generalize the results.

So I don't see a real problem if a publisher insisted on only their readers being studied in return for a donation and some publicity. However if the studies were done in a situation where students used a mixture of materials it still wouldn't represent a big problem for a donating publisher. As you say, it's not a zero-sum game and so a publisher could promote their wares more easily based on studies that showed ER, in general, to be effective, and say (as they do now) that their readers in particular were more attractive for reasons X, Y and Z.

Ideally, of course, all major publishers would chip in to fund such studies.

Asking booksellers to donate rather than the publishers of graded readers is certainly an interesting idea, but it seems a bit like asking your local electronics shop to fund study into integrated circuits instead of Intel...

But, here's a deal: -- if Cengage or any of the other major publishers donate 1% of their revenues from readers to the Extensive Reading Foundation, then so will ELTBOOKS.com!


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